The Critic #01 (The Lifted Brow 22)

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This text was first published in April-May 2014, in The Lifted Brow 22.

1. IN WHICH EPISTEMOLOGY IS DISCUSSED

The Critic always saw theatre from the first-person point of view, because there was no other way. Perhaps because, as a woman, she never felt she was able to assume the universal point of view. The idea of it – that she could see the world unmarred by who she was – felt impossible. The Critic saw beautiful, young women on stage, often in various states of undress, and could see that these were erotic stage images, but not for her. She saw hysterical women, men who would sooner commit suicide than admit an error, she saw manly banter and regret, she saw many things the meaning of which she knew, but did not feel. Theatre being theatre, she also saw many extremely rich people treat servants or people of colour badly, while they themselves revelled in relatively trivial problems, and sometimes thought about how those servants or people of colour represented her ancestors more than the protagonists, how the story of her people was only ever told on the margins. The Critic, in other words, always knew that the theatre was not meant for her, that her eyes were not the bull’s eye of the audience target, even when the message arrived. Even when she was greatly moved.

Why did the Critic like theatre, then? Why did she make it her life to see theatre three, four, five, sometimes even ten times a week, if she felt like an intruder? Because the Critic, like many – perhaps most – women, felt like an intruder in most discursive social situations already, and had become accustomed to feeling like she was sitting slightly to the left and down in the audience – a feeling that did not disappear in those prestigious, central seats. Sometimes she was elated, or crushed, sometimes her life changed while sitting in those seats; but it was an expected gift, because she had not been the target audience, because the magic that was done on her was done almost by accident.

It is said that privilege is marked by assuming that your views are representative of everyone’s. Speaking with various male critics after shows, ready to judge always slightly faster, the Critic often asked: “Why are you so sure that your opinion is the right one?” It was a strange question to many. “I know what I like,” they sometimes answered, tautology imperceptible to them.

“But you aren’t everyone”, the Critic might offer, uselessly, because in a certain sense they were everyone: they were the bull’s eye, the eye that mattered, the eye to which the art was offered. Oh, the Critic was able to pontificate with the best, argue her opinions, be sometimes insistently praising, sometimes cruelly harsh, but it was qualified intellectual bravado, always aware of where fact ended and personal opinion began.

It was with great relief that the Critic found Nataša Govedić, European dramaturg and performance critic, writing: “I think that the critic-as-a-simple-observer has never existed. The critic is always biased, has always held values, ideology if you prefer – and there doesn’t exist, not has ever existed, a neutral critic. Therefore, it is only fair to honestly admit which values we uphold, and why we believe in certain processes, and why we participiate in them.”

It is paradoxical, then, that the Critic had studiously avoided having opinions on supposedly ‘minority’ arts, such as Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival of LGBT arts, considering it and her mismatched. They were, of course, but less than feared. The queer audience arrived to the theatres with the same layered thinking, palpably so – everywhere around her the Critic could feel a suspicious, reserved energy of distantiation, of mistrust. ‘Is this work going to hurt me, or will it finally say something I can agree with?’ To the extent to which the audience mood can read, this is what the Midsumma audience seemed to be saying. Continue reading “The Critic #01 (The Lifted Brow 22)” »

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Announcing: Iliads

iliads

a performance of books 1-4 of The Iliad

conceived + directed by Ben Speth

with Nana Biluš Abaffy, Natalie Abbott,

Sarah Aiken, Rebecca Jensen, Shelley

Lasica, Maud Léger, Kevin Lo,

Bagryana Popov, Philipa Rothfield,

Greg Zuccolo

February 12-14 7-11pm

36 Moreland St. Footscray

$20/15 including food + drink (cash at the door)

bookings + Info bpspeth@gmail.com 9687 7173

limited seating – bookings advised *

iliads e-flyer

This just arrived into my inbox. It involves some of my favourite theatre-makers in Australia, so please go.

Audio Stage, ep.5 : Julian Meyrick

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“If we paid the true value for our cultural experiences, rather than the discounted value of buying American scripts and British scripts and doing those (because we don’t have to translate them and the fit is ‘good enough’, as it were, culturally speaking) […] we would realise that we’re free-loading on global culture. We’re taking that hidden subsidy that Britain and America do invest in their work and we nick it. That allows us to under-invest in our own dramatic culture.”
– Julian Meyrick

In the fifth episode, and our concluding episode in the season on history and documentation, we talk to Julian Meyrick, theatre historian, cultural policy analyst, and Strategic Professor of Creative Arts at Flinders University, joins Fleur and Jana in the concluding conversation on theatre histories and documentation.

I’m not going to lie, this was the best episode ever. We laughed so much, we went overtime, and so many important, intellectually provocative, informative things were said. I would love if I could make all of my students to listen to this, if I could, indeed, make everybody in Australia listen to our conversation. It is for conversations like this one that we started Audio Stage. To quote Mark Wilson, it makes me immensely proud and humbled, to be a part of this project, with Fleur and Kieran.

In fact, I am going to make an extended quotation right now, just because I loved this episode so much:

“On the whole people who are involved in art in Australia are not treated well. People who go into theatre have a hard time of it, and are also not treated well. So all they really have is what they can hang onto psychologically themselves. I suppose that if I was an accountant and not a very good accountant and somebody said “hey, you’re not a very good accountant!” I’m still going to go in on Monday and I’m still going to be an accountant and I’m still going to earn $170 000 a year or whatever. But I can’t go through that same logic as an artist and emerge unscathed. A) I’m probably not going to earn that kind of money and B) if I lost what little reputation I had, I’d be unlikely to earn any money at all.

Perhaps in the world of accountancy people make mistakes all the time and it’s not such a huge thing because life is a mistake full process. So is theatre-making, by the way, but the theatre profession as I know it is kind of in denial about that. People are harried, hurried and demoralised.”
– Julian Meyrick

Discussed in this episode:
the comprehensive history of Australian theatre in one minute and a half according to Julian Meyrick; projectors in theatre (so important); Australia’s horror of its past; Are we dumber than we were forty-years ago?; the cultural hangover called J. C. Williamson; Louis Nowra’s The Golden Age; Patricia Cornelius; cultural rights and cultural duties; should we be optimistic about careers in theatre?; and how in the world does a dramatic canon come about.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

Audio Stage, ep.4: John Kachoyan, Mark Wilson, Marcel Dorney

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“We rely on this idea that there is an idea that is Australia. And actually we may not be prepared to admit that it’s a really disparate place – not only distance-wise.”
– John Kachoyan

In the fourth episode, Fleur had to go to a wedding (fortunately not her own), so I was left alone with three (three!) guests: John Kachoyan, Co-Artistic Director of MKA: Theatre of New Writing, Mark Wilson, independent theatre-maker, and Marcel Dorney, the Artistic Director of independent theatre ensemble Elbow Room. Fleur still appeared, however, due to our producer Kieran’s technology magic.

This episode was recorded during Next Wave festival, and came about because I ended up in an extremely interesting discussion with these three gents at VCA earlier that week, and thought it was the sort of conversation worth recording. And it was. I ended up with pages and pages of quotes from the conversation. Something fantastic happened in the studio during the recording, and we came away with a fascinating discussion, among some of the most intelligent, passionate and engaged young leaders of the Melbourne independent theatre community, of some really important questions facing the Australian theatre.

There are some extraordinary exchanges in there, and I really highly recommend this episode, because, unfortunately, Australian media space rarely shows a passionate, respectful discussion held at a really high intellectual level. My favourite part of the conversation is probably when we discuss the role of theatre in fostering a national conversation, and John asks if theatre is in any way adequate to deal with these issues. Aren’t we asking too much of theatre?

John: “But why have we assumed the responsibility for engaging in massive cultural battles?”
Marcel: “I don’t think that we’ve assumed it. I think that we’ve rejected it. I think that’s a huge problem.”

That, dear reader, is what we talk about this fortnight.

“At the end of Keating’s prime-ministership, he was talking about embracing complexity and multiculturalism, and the difficulties there. Howard’s masterstroke was to come in and say: “I want Australians to be comfortable about their past, their present and their future.” Which is to say, “we’re not going to talk about this anymore.” And I feel like, since that period, we have not had a robust national conversation. Where is the cultural discourse about any of this stuff? We’ve had the apology, great; but that is not the end. Kevin Rudd’s apology should have been the beginning of this, kind of, great evolution in the way Australians see themselves. But I think that’s failed.”
– Mark Wilson

Discussed in this episode:
the first European play ever performed in Australia, Oriel Gray’s The Torrents, the ‘state of the nation’ play, John Howard and Paul Keating, the curse of the binaries of ‘Australian’ and ‘unAustralian’, watching theatre for information, Barrie Kosky and all our greatest theatre exports, being allowed to fail, generational warfare, Sisters Grimm and Declan Greene, killing art with egalitarianism, Lally Katz, and the theatre-enhancing properties of cheap airfares.

“I would characterise the Australian experience as, unfortunately, having to reflect a majority, and a popular view – more than art is required to in other cultures.”
– Marcel Dorney

Listen to the episode on the website or here:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Audio Stage, ep.3: Angela Conquet

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In the third episode, Fleur and I spoke to Angela Conquet, the artistic director of Melbourne’s Dancehouse, one of the most important institutions for contemporary dance in Australia.

I think this was our favourite episode so far: Angela speaks so intelligently and articulately about what makes Australian dance Australian, how easily dance is lost, how much effort it takes to keep it alive in memory, and what it says about a country not to recognise the urgency to remember its vanishing present.

“I think it’s the approach to space that really makes [dancers and choreographers] Australian. We have this joke in Europe: ‘Australian dancers are such space-eaters’. … With certain artists, I think it’s fascinating, you can tell from a mile away that they have an approach to space that’s completely different to what you see in Europe.”
– Angela Conquet

Discussed in this episode:
Russell Dumas, how much space Australian pedestrians take, reinventing hot water, RoseLee Goldberg not getting Australian dance, what it means to have or not have a revolution, Merce Cunningham, the historical importance of being seen at Avignon, and much else.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Listen to the episode on the website or here:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

Audio Stage ep.2 : Alison Croggon on writing theatre history

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In the second episode, our guest is Alison Croggon, who needs no introductions: an author, poet and the most important contemporary theatre critic in Australia.

This was a really wonderful episode to record. Alison is such an intellectually rigorous critic, with an enormous knowledge of both the theatre and the literary canon, and talking with her is always an enormous joy. One of the beauties of recording a conversation is that it captures the tone of a person, something that doesn’t always come across in print, and Alison has this wonderful humour to her, a way of laughing while making a complex point. I hope you will enjoy this episode as much as we have.

There was a dominant myth, and it was a a nationalistic myth, and it was a very male myth, a very writer-centric narrative. And what I found when I was very young and talking to people (…) you just found things out. You know, the feminist theatre that was happening in the Seventies, and some plays by Peter Handke had their first English-language performaces in Melbourne. There was a lot of forgotten history that people talked about, that was never written down – and it was a much more interesting and a much more complex picture than was presented.
– Alison Croggon

Discussed in this episode:
the mutual dependency of blogs and independent theatre, Robert Brustein, when reviewers are incorrect, Requiem for the 20th Century, internet trolls (all men!), and the cowardice of anonymity.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

Introducing: our theatre radio, Audio Stage

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This is quite an exciting day, because today I am introducing the first episode of our podcast, Audio Stage.

A few months ago (not very long), I met Fleur Kilpatrick, who I thought was absolutely superlovely, and passionate about theatre in a way that felt very familiar, with a kind of passion and curiosity and zest and just all-round inquisitiveness that I loved. And so I asked if she wanted to do a podcast together.

Fleur answered: “I’ve always wanted to do a podcast.”

Which was great, because I felt the same way. So, very quickly, we found our producer, Kieran Ruffles, and before we knew it we were making a podcast. From Fleur’s experiences interviewing theatre practitioners, and my experience teaching at the VCA, we arrived at the idea of discussing certain topics around theatre and performance in as much depth as we possibly could muster. We thought: let’s do the opposite of the three-minute soundbyte promoting a show; let’s do a really long talk about a serious question. We were as self-consciously ambitious as DIY allows.

It has turned into a great experience, and I hope you will enjoy these conversations, of which there are many more to come. In the first block, we have opted for the question of historical memory and documentation, in many ways the first and basic question in the performing arts: how do we document and remember our fleeting, fleeting art, how do we forget it, and what art do we then make, from this place of remembrance or forgetting? Our guests have all been amazing, and we continue to have enormous amounts of fun.

“I don’t know that I’m convinced of the permanence of my work – which is a bit to do with the community, and how it works: what gets put on, what gets remembered and, critically, what gets printed, what gets published. Another reason why the New Wave, the 60s’ and 70s’ generation is so remembered and so written about is because they published friggin’ everything! If you’re going to go find a play, it’s going to be from one of those guys. Unless you pick up one of the Currency House programs, and even those are mostly those guys. And I say ‘guys’ because they are mostly guys, too.”
– Robert Reid

In the first episode, our guest is extraordinary Robert Reid, playwright, director, director of Pop-Up Playground and great populariser of performative play in Australia, and a PhD candidate in theatre history.

Discussed in this episode:
melodrama, vaginal knitting, “The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll,” stage directions: yes or no?, improbable character descriptions, and the potential historical value of internet comments.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

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Like a Writing Desk

Two of my favourite things in the world are theatre and radio, which is why it was so exciting when Aden Rolfe emailed me to tell me his multi-awarded radio play Like a Writing Desk is about to air on Radio National.

I was in the middle of something else and very involved as it aired, so I am only listening to it now, and putting a link here in order to never lose it. As should you, because radio plays are almost certainly in the future of theatre, as well.

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‘How to tell the difference between a good play and a poor one’ in seven easy scenes

I just found something extremely merry-making.

Looking through my old, unsorted writing archives for a text I couldn’t find, I instead came across a gem of a project, something I had totally forgotten about.

In 2010, Aden Rolfe asked me to write something on playwrighting for the Emerging Writers Festival Reader, vol.2, which he was editing that year. Aden wanted something experimental and visually interesting. I thought it was a great idea.

So I wrote a sort of… I wrote something-like-a-play, about something-like-playwrighting – but stay with me here – except that during this time I was neighbours with Black Lung, and was regularly having dinner on their roof and discussing the physical limits of playwrighting with Thomas Henning. And so the article/play came out as a fairly demented piece.

I have no idea what the poor Emerging Writers, who bought the Reader, thought about it: whether they understood any of it, whether it even made sense to them. But Aden was happy, and I was extremely pleased with myself. At the time, I was a) too busy with finishing my Honours Thesis to really self-promote, and b) thought of it as tasteless and boorish. Consequently, I don’t think anyone knows about this piece! Even I had forgotten! That is, until I accidentally found it on my computer today, and spent the 2 minutes it takes to read in a fit of giggles.

For historical record, here it is. It is an embedded PDF, because the formating, you will soon notice, is important.

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Set design and metaphor

Nothing is quite as electrifying in theatre as a good stage metaphor, and no theatre discipline can do stage metaphor quite as BIG as set design.

I met Chloe Lamford last night – very beautifully and kindly, she treated my completely trashed-from-jetlag self with a discounted theatre ticket. Today, I am watching this trailer, which makes Katie Mitchell’s production of Lungs for Schaubuehne almost entirely about the set. Deservedly, I think. The way in which it creates metaphor is absolutely extraordinary.

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